Monday, October 28, 2013

Montelupo Fiorentino : Ceramics Museum

During my stay in Florence this year, I only ventured out of town once, to visit the ceramics museum in nearby Montelupo. My interest had been piqued after seeing Montelupo ceramic tiles covering the floors of several rooms in the Palatina Gallery at Palazzo Pitti. I headed out on a cloudy day, taking a train on the Florence to Siena line. Montelupo is only 12 miles southwest of Florence, and it takes about 20 minutes on the regional train. I went early, as the museum was only open from 10-1 that day, and ended up spending several hours viewing the display.

Montelupo Fiorentino
Montelupo Fiorentino was one of the most important centers of pottery production of the Renaissance, both in Italy and other parts of Europe. Some pieces of pottery from Montelupo have been found in archaeological sites as far away as Central America, as well as in the Philippines and Scotland.

One of the many shops selling ceramics.
In 1977, the volunteers of the Archaeological Group of Montelupo Fiorentino discovered a large well inside a nearby castle that overlooks the medieval village. It seems the well was abandoned in the 13th century, and over time came to be filled with waste from the ceramic kilns. The fragments of pottery found in the well are now displayed in the recently built Museum of Ceramics of Montelupo.

Museo della Ceramica
The Museum is well laid out , with three floors of rooms filled with ceramics, divided by time periods. Each room has an explanation of the designs and colors used in making the ceramics of that time period, along with the history of Florence and how the ceramics were used by the rulers of Florence, in particular the Medici.

Tricolor Majolica, 1480
I found the museum to be one of the more interesting ones I've visited over the years, with detailed information about how the designs and colors changed over time. These changes came about as a result of influences from other countries as well as from demands by the Medici on how the ceramics would be used. As you can see from the photos below, the designs and colors became more intricate and complex as the skills of the artisans developed over time.

Eye of the peacock's feather, 1500

1509, when the color red was first introduced at Montelupo
Ceramics used by pharmacists (the doctors of the time) to store herbs and ointments
One of my favorites!
In the second half of the seventeenth century, Montelupo experienced a considerable drop in productivity, which eventually lead to the disappearance of the furnaces that were used in the majolica industry. However, in the early 1900's, when favorable economic conditions allowed for the resumption of the production of enamelwork, Montelupo once again began to produce majolica.

"Today, Montelupo Fiorentino is one of the most important centres of Italian ceramics, devoted to the production of the raw materials and of artistic majolica for export. More than 120 workshops employ a total of about 1,300 people who produce the raw materials (clay and pigments), traditional ceramics, ceramics of contemporary design, tiles and terracotta goods." museo montelupo

Montelupo itself is a small, quiet village, with a well taken care of centro storico. I stopped in for a slice of pizza before heading back to Florence.

A mosaic fountain in the centro storico.
For anyone interested in ceramics, the Museo della Ceramica is well worth the 3 euro train ride to Montelupo.

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